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Considering buying a 2nd gen...

45618 Views 914 Replies 22 Participants Last post by  Kingdom934
Hello. I've owned two cars in the past; a used 2008 Toyota Yaris (that I only owned for five months before totaling it in a car crash), then a new 2011 Mazda2, which I totally loved every day until it was repossessed and immediately auctioned due to financial troubles on my part earlier this year. I've been without a car now for three months in the most car-dependent state on the planet, and yeah, it sucks.

So now that I'm steadily employed and relatively financially stable again, I need another car, and fast. I absolutely do not want to deal with monthly payments, aside from auto insurance and regular maintenance/gas. At first, I was looking at 4th generation Camrys, since they're still everywhere and those were the last generation of said reliable car before all the cars started getting really fat and bloated (high beltines, anyone?). But the average price of those Camrys is too high for me to save up for at the moment ($2300-$3300). I also looked at used 2000s cars to buy outright, but most under $2500 are full of problems. So I opted for pre-1997 cars for less than $2000.

That's where the 2nd generation Camry comes in. Here in Southern California, especially in L.A. and vicinity, there are still quite a few of these 1987-1991 Camrys zipping around, and with no rust. In my city alone, there are probably a dozen or so of them on the roads (white seems to be the popular color of choice). I see enough of them daily to where I feel they have proven themselves to be sturdy, reliable vehicles for their age. I see just as many 1986-89 and 1990-93 Honda Accords and Civics here, but those are stolen even more, and I don't need that. I also could have opted for the just-as-good-if-not-better 3rd generation Camrys (1992-1996), but they're too round and ordinary-looking for my taste. The 2nd gen Camrys got it right IMO, not too boxy but not too round either.

So I've been doing extensive research on these 2nd gen Camrys every single day for the past month now, and there are over 100 of them for sale locally on craigslist. Many have between 100K and 200k miles; I've even seen some with 300,000+ miles on them (!!!). So I'm currently saving up about $1500 for one, that seems like a reasonable price to me. Now I am not a mechanic nor am I very mechanically inclined with cars (the most I've done is change the air filter on my 2011 Mazda2), however I'm willing to learn what is needed to keep the car running smoothly. In fact, it kinda seems like it would make me feel more personally attached to the car, thus making it even more special. I would not typically drive long distances in the car, I just need to get to my job and college (all within a few miles) and occasionally my friend's house and stuff like that. Local driving, mostly. However I should mention that the roads here are pretty crappy in general. We also have many, many curvy & twisty roads, often with long, gradual as well as very steep grades/inclines. I hope the Camry can handle it.

I do love listening to music, oh man do I love me some good tunes. So I've already looked into Pioneer audio systems for the car just in case, as I don't believe the stock stereo/speakers will do the bass any real justice.

As for safety, to be honest, I'm not all that concerned. Post-1985 cars I'm not worried about. It has just enough for me, I'm fairly minimal in my preferences in a car. All I need is a good sound system, A/C and the typical power steering/etc and I'm set. I'm 23, by the way.

So tl;dr - are these good cars? Is $1500 worth it? Any advice/tips/recommendations/etc? Thank you.
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Yes they are good cars, but you need to consider the fact that the newest 2nd Gens will soon turn 25 years old. It's a good thing you want to learn how to fix things yourself, you'll find a lot of support from this forum.

If you can drive stick I'd recommend you buy a 4 cyl manual car for fuel economy, reliability and ease of maintenance.

If you don't have tools of your own you will need to buy metric sockets and wrenches. You'll use that 10 mm socket a lot.

Inspect the vehicle before you buy it. Bring a flashlight with you. Inspect the rubber hoses, check for leaking fluids, integrity of steering parts and suspension. How the car performs mechanically is more important that its looks. 1500$ is a fair price for a well-maintained 2nd gen.

When you finally decide to buy the car get the Toyota Factory Service Manual and study it. Do your own fluid changes and tune-ups. Come to the forum, read threads, ask questions, spend some time here. You will get to know your car and once you know how your car works it can save your ass, believe me. If money is tight, resist the urge to modify and customize your ride. Keep your money for maintenance and repairs.

The more you work on them the more you get attached. Yes they're reliable, rather safe for their age, extremely well built and engineered, get decent mpg... just perfect cars IMO.
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Well since OP is from So Cal I think rust isn't an issue for him ;) I agree the four cylinders are easy to work on, lots of space in the engine bay. When I bought my V6 I had no previous experience working on cars, only mopeds and scooters. I popped the hood open and it made my head spin. What the hell am I getting myself into, I thought. For the more complicated jobs I drive my car to my old man's garage and it's like walking a tightrope without a net. I must not fail. I'm 40 miles away from civilization, no internet, no spare vehicle, no experience. Just my FSM and tools. That's how I get my adrenaline fix :D I love what you do for me Toyota!
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A recent listing in my area....I like this one, that color is rare. Sandalwood Metallic was only available for the '90 model year Camry's.
Link leads to a 74 Mazda wagon. Cool car though!
Looks good, I'd take it for a spin. It's a V6 but hey I can't preach against it, after all I do own one. They're not very easy to work on, the engine bay is cramped. Plenty of parts available. I take mine on fairly long road trips every year, never had an issue. 2VZ-FE / A540E combo is not too bad on gas, it likes 91 octane but I have averaged 24 mpg on my last trip and I was pretty satisfied with that. They're good cars. If you're willing to learn how to maintain it yourself I doubt you'll regret buying one.
Heck, I drove 150 miles in one day (I'm on an ISLAND), my old camry was fine.
Ha! One time I drove 620 miles in one day, from Alma NB to Montreal QC. Long trips are not a problem when maintenance is properly done.
My old neighbor had a brand new fully loaded 929 circa 1988, with cellphone, leather, sunroof, V6, all the goodies. I was in love with that car as a kid. It looked and smelled like luxury. Cream white on tan leather, just beautiful. I agree they are unicorns and it would be quite hard to find parts for one, at least when it comes to body parts and interior trims. For the mechanical side of things Rockauto is your friend. I cannot comment on their reliability, the one my neighbor had seemed reliable but at the time it was brand new. 25 years later who knows for real?
@Temeku any reasons why you won't consider Hondas?
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And why are we mentioning the fucking Cavalier?
Yeah WTF Zythr? You have like 10,000 posts and half of them are dissing General Motors :D Now you suggest OP buys a Cavalier?? Go to bed man you're not yourself anymore! :lol:

My old man drives an 06 Cobalt, it's not a good car, I hate to drive it it's uncomfortable and way below my Camry in terms of general build quality but it's not unreliable either. 375,000+ kms and still going with little more than oil changes. He bought new shocks and spark plugs last year and a new battery last week, that's about it. Oh yeah and new wheel bearings. Gets a steady 7L/100 kms (33.6 mpg). Maybe he has the only decent Cobalt there is, I don't know. Most of them are 4000$ in Craigslist/Inland Empire so it's not an option for OP anyway.
Haha! Congratulations man! You'll find the color and the shape of your new car will make it very easy to find in the middle of a crowded parking lot, you'll see. This is not some egg-shaped run-off-the-mill black crossover.

My advice to you: when you need parts always compare the prices of your local parts store with Rockauto first.,carcode,1166756

And don't forget your 5% discount code.

Now buy this album and go burn some freakin GASOLINE boy! :rockon:

I hope you'll enjoy your newfound freedom :thumbsup:
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Something I forgot to mention - the seller did say that the one of the fuses tends to blow without warning every now and again under special circumstances, he said it had something to do with the cooling fan and watching the something (wish I remembered) going above 1/3...? Sorry if that sounds nonsensical, my mind works against me sometimes.
The fuse for radiator cooling fan blows without warning. You have to watch the water temperature gauge, if it goes too high it means the fuse is blown and the fan isn't working.

If you're stuck in traffic with an overheating engine and can't find a way to immediately pull over you can turn the heater full blast on HIGH and HOT and the temp gauge will eventually go down. You'll be slowly cooked but you'll save your engine until you can find a safe spot.
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It should also be noted that the other cable down there splits off to the right hi-beam, which does not work either. I didn't check to see if there was a bulb in it or not. I hope I can just find that little lock for cheap and stick it in there, but if I have to replace that entire cable, so be it (but I need to know what it's called).
It's called a bulb socket, I guess in that case you could say a cornering light socket. The front turn signal lights are mounted in the front bumper right? So what you're looking at here is the corner lamps. Any auto parts store should carry this part, just a normal 194 pigtail socket, pretty standard. DORMAN 643113 would fit.
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I'll be buying this manual this weekend, among other parts for the car on that website. That website is seriously amazing, almost everything for my specific car is on there and at low prices.
Don't forget the 5% discount.

It's always preferable to own the Factory Service Manual but a Haynes or Chilton will get you through most jobs just fine. My old man rebuilt his '86 Golf diesel engine using only a Chilton. FSM still rules though.

I know I may be criticized for doing this seemingly early, but this weekend I'm getting some inexpensive speakers and radio
Myeah... I won't say anything... ;)

Otherwise, I've been tinkering around in my car almost every day this week trying to get behind that climate control console (heater/AC) to check out the lever/cables, but I just can't get in there. I'm unsure of what to do next at this point on that problem.
Get on your back, start removing screws. Eventually you'll be able to remove parts of the dash board and gain access to the HVAC. Keep in mind old plastic tend to be dried up and break easily. Especially when baked in the California sun for the past 32 years.

There's also this thing to the left of the steering wheel, switching it to open/close doesn't seem to do anything.
It opens and closes the vent above it. You'll only feel the difference with the heater fan running.
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Only thing about the 80's was that the cars were not built for audio, so they had tiny sounding speakers. Perfect enough for a cheap-o radio like sound, but nothing thumping.
Yeah but the aftermarket systems were killer in those days. Blaupunkt and Alpine (I've never liked Craig) were at the top of their game. Even Realistic made good equalizers. People didn't have subs in their trunk but the aftermarket amps and speakers sounded rich and loud, perfect for hard rock and heavy metal.

I still carry two boxes of cassettes in my car. I have everything from AC/DC to White Zombie, The Doors, CCR, Prong, Van Halen, Pantera, Metallica, Slayer... you name it. I've never gotten over tape :lol:
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Brake booster looks like this:

It should be mounted to the firewall on the driver side. The brake fluid reservoir is part of the master cylinder, master is bolted to the booster like this:

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About your bulb, the answer is right here, clear as day. 12V5W # 168.

168 and 194 bulbs are the same size, only the 194 is brighter. They look like this:

If you have to destroy the socket and the plastic housing to install your bulb, chances are you got the wrong bulb :lol:

By the looks of it I'd say this particular bulb goes in your tail / brake lights.
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;) Could the large object under the air filter be the carburetor?

Another question: While digging around exploring under the hood some more, I found this large container. I don't know what it is for, but it looks empty. It connects to coolant-related hoses and such, but those are full.

That's the overflow tank. You should refill it to the MAX line. It does not look completely empty from here but it's under the MIN level. We don't know what type of coolant is in there (some types don't mix) so just use some distilled water to be on the safe side.
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My service manual served as my Official Toilet Read for at least a year back when I bought my car. Enjoy your new book ;)
About the shim: you'll have to remove the bottom or top caliper guide pin, flip the caliper up and put the shim back in place. It shouldn't be hard.


About the CV boot: The thing in your picture is the tie rod end. The rubber boot is in bad shape. I'm surprised you just had an alignment done and they didn't ask you to replace it.

This is a CV axle, the boots are the rubber parts:

That ''fuel hose'' is not stock. From where I stand it looks like the PO has replaced the PCV hose with a piece of generic fuel hose. If the seal around the PCV valve is not tight it could create a vacuum leak.

What the PCV system does:
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Now my question is this: I've never added oil, so when adding oil, do I simply just open the cap on top of the engine and pour it in? Or do I have to flush out the existing oil for any reason? The dipstick currently reads the oil being right at the "ADD" line, at the bottom of where all the criss-cross lines are.
You don't need to drain oil to add oil.

According to Castrol your car has a sump+filter capacity of 3.8 liters. Usually when the oil is down at the ADD line it's because it's missing a quart. Some people may tell you otherwise but IMO the oil has to be checked on a cold engine with the car parked on a level surface.

You don't need to buy fancy synthetic oil, conventional 10w30 or 10w40 will do. High mileage oil could arguably be better for your car. Buy a 5L jug of anything that has the API logo on it and keep it in your trunk. Check it often and try to keep the oil on the MAX level.

You will eventually need to drain all the oil when doing an oil change and change the filter too. On an old carburetor engine I'd do it every 3-5k miles (on conventional oil), especially if you do lots of short trips.

Same with the coolant. Fortunately the PO was generous enough to leave me with a huge container of the coolant he had been using for the car, so I don't end up using the wrong coolant or anything like that. O'Reilly Auto Parts did not have universal coolant reservoir tanks when asked, but AutoZone did. I didn't buy one yet since I know that I would need to do some weird flush that I don't know how to do. But if I need to flush it anyway when adding more coolant regardless of whether I get a new reservoir tank or not, then I might as well get a new one.
Top off the overflow tank with coolant the PO gave you. I don't think you need to replace the tank but sure you could clean it. I was able to read the level from the picture, so I suppose it's readable enough in person. My tank looks dirty too, doesn't hurt anything AFAIK.
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I check the oil often (the proper way) and the oil itself is fine, but I'm still not sure about the level since the dipstick itself is black, making it hard to tell even after I wipe it off and dip it again. So I bought a universal dipstick at the local auto store today (one that I can actually read), I'll use it later once the engine has cooled down again.
I'd like to see a picture of your original dipstick VS the new one, side by side if possible.

You'll also need to figure out what type of transmission fluid your car needs before you do anything to the transmission. For instance my car requires Dexron II, a GM fluid. A Honda might be different. You should be able to find this information in your manual. I also don't recommend a flush, but multiple drain and fills instead over a certain period of time until the fluid is clear red.

About your brakes, the good news is you don't actually NEED the shim at all. A shim is mostly an anti-squeal device.
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